Austrian retreat: “The hills are alive with the sound of . .?”

Austrian retreat: “The hills are alive with the sound of . .?”

by Betsy Herbert

In late July, I arrived at the Schloss-Pichlarn Hotel in Irdning, Austria on a fast train, after a scenic two-hour journey from Salzburg. I had a Global Eurail pass, so I traveled first class on this beautiful train through the Alps with no additional fare. When I arrived, a very amiable hotel driver in full uniform was there to meet me.

As we drove to the hotel--a renovated castle perched on a hill overlooking the small, picturesque town of Irdning--I felt a little out of my league! The grand hotel entrance, complete with marble balustrades and fountains, was lined all around with shiny, black BMWs, Mercedes, Audis, Porsches, Range Rovers and even a Rolls Royce.

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Italy sojourn: From pleasure to pickpockets

Italy sojourn: From pleasure to pickpockets

by Betsy Herbert

I got a flight on July 13 from Barcelona to Florence to meet my friend Sue, who was flying in the same day from San Francisco. She’d recently discovered that her grandmother’s family was from Sicily, so she decided to join me in Italy for two weeks.

We would start out in Florence for a few days, then work our way south by train through Rome and Naples to Sicily, where we would hang out for a week and explore. Then we would take the train back to Rome, where a couple of days later, Sue would fly back home and I would continue on the train to Austria.

The heat wave that had plagued my trip to Spain continued in Italy. We grabbed a cab at the Florence airport to our hotel, the Villa Nardi, a guesthouse in the foothills above the city. The neighborhood reminded me of Embassy Row in Washington, D.C. . . . Grand old stone buildings, wrought iron gated driveways, and huge trees. The doors to the villa were about 10 feet tall, with brass knockers the size of volley balls. The cicadas were having a field day in the hot weather, as were the mosquitoes. I was greatly relieved to find that our room had air conditioning.

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Returning to Spain after half a century

Returning to Spain after half a century

by Betsy Herbert

Good grief! It has finally sunk in that the first time I visited Spain was 51 years ago. I remember the time well, because it was just a few months after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. I sailed from New York across the Atlantic on the Italian cruise ship "Cristoforo Columbo" with a group of students, as part of Beloit College's semester abroad program.

At 19, I thought I was fairly well prepared for the experience of living with a Spanish family for three months. I had taken several years of Spanish in high school and college, I'd read some Garcia Lorca poetry and studied Cervantes' Don Quixote de la Mancha. I also had read the novel, The Ugly American, (1958, Burdick & Lederer) and I was dead set against becoming that type of unenlightened world traveler..

What a shock when we got off the ship and couldn't understand a word of Spanish as spoken in this part of southern Spain, known as Andalucia.

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A visit to Crete during the EU-Greek crisis

A visit to Crete during the EU-Greek crisis

by Betsy Herbert

Foreward: I want to state up front, that despite the EU/Greek crisis dominating the headlines lately, I had a wonderful two weeks in Crete, the largest Greek Island. Though the Greek people I met were clearly concerned about the situation, they graciously went about their business. As a tourist, I was a little worried when I left Crete June 30 on the overnight ferry, because I was low on euros. I was afraid I wouldn't be able to withdraw funds the next morning from an ATM in Athens to cover my meals and bus ride to the airport later that afternoon. So when the ferry docked just before 6 a.m. in Piraeus, Athens I headed straight for an ATM. Hundreds of people were already lined up in front of the banks waiting to withdraw funds as soon as the banks opened. Thankfully, I was able to access an ATM and withdraw 100 euros (the limit), which would get me to the airport and on my way. But it was terrible to see the desperate faces of people worried about losing their savings.

I've wanted to visit Crete ever since I took my first art history class when I was introduced to the ancient Minoan murals of Knossos. Naturally, Crete was on my bucket list for my round-the-world trip, so after leaving Croatia on June 14, I flew to Athens and took the overnight ferry to Chania on the north coast of Crete.

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Clear waters and captivating cities of Croatia

Clear waters and captivating cities of Croatia

by Betsy Herbert

It was pitch-black dark when my train pulled into Zagreb from Villach, Austria on May 30. The day before, I had notified the Hotel Dubrovnik in Zagreb that I would be arriving late. I headed straight for an ATM in the train station so I could get some local currency...the kuna is the official currency here. Even though Croatia is now part of the European Union, the euro has not yet been adopted.

Emboldened by a full purse, I flagged down a taxi and headed straight to the hotel. It was so close I probably could have walked, pulling my carry-on bag. But, given that it was 10 pm and I was alone, I got the cab. It took only about 5 minutes, including a couple of extra trips around the block the cabbie took.

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Train journey from France to Croatia

Train journey from France to Croatia

by Betsy Herbert

I began traveling with my Eurail pass (the one you can only buy in the USA before you leave) when I left Aix-en-Provence, France on April 28. I was bound for Zagreb, Croatia for a two week Sierra Club International Tour beginning on May 31, so I had 3 1/2 days to make the journey.

I thought from reading my Eurail Pass brochure that I would be able to make my train reservations all the way from France to Croatia at the Aix-en-Provence railway station. After all, I had a Global Eurail Pass which entitles me to train travel at a hugely discounted rate in most countries in Europe, including all of the countries on the most direct route from France to Croatia: Switzerland, Italy, Austria, and Slovenia.

But this was not the case. As the agent at the Aix-en-Provence ticket counter explained in a patronizing way, French policy is to not allow Eurail Pass holders to reserve seats on any trains except French trains leaving from France (unless of course, I wanted to pay the full fare, which was already included in the cost of my Eurail Pass).

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Pastels of Provence

Pastels of Provence

by Betsy Herbert

After a stressful day of driving rental car from Aix-en-Provence 90 km north to the village of Forcalquier, my 5-day respite at La Campagne Berne was to be a great compensation.

Surrounded by gardens, La Campagne Berne is an old Provencal farmhouse that has been converted to a bed and breakfast for 10-12 guests. Located in Montagne de Lure within the Luberon Regional Nature Park, it has panoramic views of the Southern Alps, the small village of Lurs and Lure Mountain.

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Travel woes: Getting to Provence

Travel woes: Getting to Provence

by Betsy Herbert

On April28 I left Paris on the TGV (bullet train) going south to Aix-en-Provence, where I would pick up a rental car to complete the remaining 90 km journey to a country inn called Campagne Berne, just outside of the old village of Forcalquier. But before I tell you more about Campagne Berne, which defines in my mind the laid-back, rustic beauty of Provence, I feel compelled to describe my short journey there, just to acknowledge the darker side of traveling solo.

After arriving from Paris at the Aix-en-Provence TGV station, I had no trouble finding a restroom, but to my dismay, pay toilets are still au courant in French train stations. Had to pay half a Euro. As I fished a coin out of my purse, I paid a silent note of gratitude to March Fong Eu, the California legislator who led the campaign to ban pay toilets in California back in the 1970s.

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Solo but nurtured in Paris

Solo but nurtured in Paris

by Betsy Herbert

Paris was my first stop after disembarking from the Queen Mary 2 in Southampton on May 17. The last time I was in Paris I was just waiting to get on a plane home after spending a semester in Spain and hitchhiking around Europe for the summer...back in 1964!

I remember that time quite distinctly because a combination of factors left me feeling not quite up to sightseeing in Paris. I had gained some 20 pounds during my previous 6 months in Europe (wine, peanuts, tapas, fried fish, and cafe au laitduring my homestay in Spain, then lots of beer in Germany). My good American shoes had worn out while hitchhiking and my arches were falling. As a result, my lower back was killing me. Plus there was a record heat wave when I got to Paris, and I had run out of money. I was definitely ready to come home!

This time, though 50 years older, I was much better prepared. I had been working out with a personal trainer for 6 months before my trip. I had brought 4 pairs of good quality shoes, and I had a decidedly larger travel budget.

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Cruising and bruising aboard the Queen Mary 2

Cruising and bruising aboard the Queen Mary 2

by Betsy Herbert

What a send off it was on May 10 departing on the behemoth Queen Mary 2 (QM2) from New York Harbor on a sunny and warm afternoon. Cunard’s welcoming brochure urged all 2,429 guests to come to the main deck at departure time for a glass champagne to toast the beginning of the week long Atlantic crossing to Southampton, England.

The joy of the moment was somewhat diminished when I found a $20 charge to my stateroom for that single glass of champagne. And I thought Cunard invited me for that drink!!

Ah well, it wouldn’t be the last of the unexpected charges aboard the big ocean liner. No doubt the most annoying and exorbitant was the bill for wi-fi. Given that there was no cell phone coverage out at sea, the only way to stay in touch with friends and family on the big ship was wi-fi, made possible through satellite technology.

Were passengers offered free wi-fi? Not a chance.

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Traveller, Interrupted.

Traveller, Interrupted.

by Betsy Herbert

I’m a train travel enthusiast. I’ve taken Amtrak across the US several times, starting in Oakland, California and ending in either New York City or Washington, D.C. The scenery is unbeatable. As long as you remain flexible and don’t get too bummed when the train doesn’t stay on schedule, you will probably enjoy this trip.

In October 2014, when I was just committing to my 2015/2016 round-the-world trip, I decided to take the train across Canada, eventually ending up in New York City to board the Queen Mary 2 (QM2)  for her May 10 transAtlantic crossing to Southampton, England.

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Vancouver, British Columbia

Vancouver, British Columbia

by Betsy Herbert

After visiting friends in Portland and Corvallis, Oregon, I flew via Alaska Airlines to Vancouver, B.C. on April 28. I was pleasantly surprised to find an information desk at the airport strategically located near baggage claim.

I was very pleased to find an actual human posted there to answer questions and direct arriving passengers to their destinations via different modes of transportation.

Within moments, I bought a ticket and boarded the light rail at the airport to downtown Vancouver. In twenty minutes, I arrived at a stop within walking distance of my hotel, Sunset Inn on the West End. I had two smallish bags, thankfully, both on wheels. After checking in, I continued to explore the city on foot.

Vancouver is a breathtakingly beautiful and cosmopolitan city that has managed to retain a small town feel. Don’t get me wrong. Vancouver has its share of chaos, mostly due to an ongoing construction boom reminiscent of San Francisco’s. Yet, despite detours and traffic jams, people for the most part seemed friendly and relaxed.

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Three-day New York City bash

Three-day New York City bash

by Betsy Herbert

Can a visit to New York City nurse a broken heart? It can. Though I was grieving from the recent loss of my little brother David, I decided to continue my year-long trip around the world, after returning home to the Bay Area for a week to spend with my family.

I flew from San Francisco to New York City on May 7, where I met my dear friend Carmen who lives in Ithaca, New York. Carmen and I shared a great trip to Peru a few years ago. So we planned to meet up again in New York City, where she said she wanted to give me a “proper send-off” as I departed May 10 on the Queen Mary 2. Since her son lives in Brooklyn, Carmen visits New York frequently. Indeed, I was lucky to be accompanied by a great soul who also happens to know the city!

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Hanging out in Alsea, Oregon

Hanging out in Alsea, Oregon

by Betsy Herbert

My big trip round-the-world trip started on April 10 when left Santa Cruz for Portland to visit friends before flying to Vancouver, B.C. My dear friends Dave and Teri live in Alsea, Oregon, a rural village some 25 miles west of Corvallis. Dave teaches physics at Oregon State University and Teri is a craftsperson, cook and organic gardener. I feel blessed: Teri took time out from all of her projects to knit me a pair of socks!

I love hanging out at their farmhouse. It’s peaceful and it feels like home, despite the extensive brown clear-cuts that quilt the surrounding green hills.

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Getting ready for the big trip . . .

Getting ready for the big trip . . .

For the past eight months, I've been planning, researching, and dreaming about a year-long trip around the world.  I'm starting my trip this month, blogging as I go.

Thanks to Douglas Hofstader, scientist and author of "I Am a Strange Loop," Basic Books, 2007 for inspiring the title of my blog!

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